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Harrietstown 2021 budget calls for slim tax increase

Harrietstown Supervisor Mike Kilroy (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

SARANAC LAKE — Harrietstown Supervisor Mike Kilroy’s desk at the Town Hall is covered with papers and accounting paraphernalia, as one would expect from a budget guy. These include an ancient adding machine — and not a few Garry Trudeau Winter Carnival posters.

What Kilroy has been working on lately is the town’s preliminary 2021 budget, which would culminate in a 4-cent tax rate increase for property owners inside the village of Saranac Lake, up to $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value — a $340 annual bill for the owner of a $200,000 house, for example. Outside the village it would only be a 1-cent hike, up to $3.33, or $666 for the $200,000 homeowner. There will be a public hearing on the budget Thursday, after which the town board may approve it.

As Kilroy goes down the numbers, he grows reminiscent. Next year will be his last as supervisor — he won’t run again. He was appointed supervisor in 2014, to fill out Bob Bevilacqua’s term when he resigned, and then was elected to fill out the term and reelected in 2018. Before that Kilroy was the Saranac Lake Central School District business manager. He started doing the Harrietstown budget on the side in 1989 and has done it ever since.

He’s averaged about a 2-1/2-cent tax rate increase each year over the 32 years. “I did go down in 2011,” he said, going over more numbers. “Back up again in 2012.” Kilroy said the tax rate mostly goes up, as expenses and the cost of living mostly do, too, though “it would be nice if it didn’t.”

With this budget, the town would spend $5,186,372 next year. The tax levy, or the total amount to be raised by property taxes, is expected to be $2,569,491 for 2021. In 2020 it was $2,547,602, so that’s less than a 0.9% increase. The year before that it was $2,488,726. As with the previous years, the budget comes in below New York’s statewide tax cap; this year it’s about $59,000 below the cap.

Kilroy’s 2021 budget isn’t much of a departure from last year’s, even given the pandemic.

“Our budget doesn’t change much from year to year,” he said. One reason is that Harrietstown’s budget doesn’t include much money from the state. “Seventy-five to eighty percent of our money comes from local taxpayers. When the state starts cutting, I don’t get real nervous.”

This is more relevant than usual this year, as COVID-19 has meant a projected hefty state budget deficit: a $13.3 billion shortfall, or 14%, according to the New York State Division of the Budget.

Costs of gas, oil and fuel went down, said Kilroy, as did court costs. The town paid off some debt, including the cost of vehicles and town hall renovation, and plans to cover the money with the sale of seven lots located in the business park near the airport.

Some of the projected revenue he keeps fairly conservative, especially that projected from property and mortgage taxes.

“Everybody says the real estate market is great,” he said. “But we don’t know that yet.” Both airport costs and revenue — the town of Harrietstown owns and operates the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear — have gone down, so “it’s kind of an offset.” The airport takes up 42% of next year’s projected budget — almost $2.2 million.

“I don’t know where my money goes,” Kilroy said, smiling. “But I know where the town’s money goes.”

The budget goes before a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, conducted over Zoom.

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